Predator or Prey

By: Jonno Pittock

I read an article years ago by Phil Galfond (I think), where he spoke about the predatory nature of poker.  At the time of reading it, the concept grated against me and it wasn’t something I accepted at face value.  I understood what he was saying, and agreed with him to some extent, however it was not my experience.

I came up in poker at a time when the Australian poker community was small and very tight-knit.  As a dealer in the old Crown Poker Room we knew all the local players by name, and they knew us.  Come Championship time when all the interstate players came to town, we would know most of them too, as would the local players – if not personally, at least by reputation.  I used to love dealing the big games and listening to stories about the old days and shenanigans of trips to Vegas and Europe.  It was one of the things that drew me to poker, the rich history and vibrant characters in the game.  I was just a young kid, and happy to be a part of it.

I cut my teeth playing $1 spread limit Manila, before settling into a circuit of regular $4/8 limit Holdem/Omaha home games.  It was fun back then.  We weren’t earning huge sums of money, but at those stakes and playing limit, you couldn’t really get hurt.  You could have a few beers, talk shit with your mates, have a laugh and trade some pots.

I recently filmed a documentary, and in one of the interviews I talked about how the game has changed.  I referenced the fact that poker has become less about camaraderie and much more combative.  It seems strange to me that I have only been around the industry 13 years, but feel qualified to talk about “the old days”.  In the old days, when you played poker you felt like part of an exclusive club, as you were in a very small minority of the population.  I think this is where the camaraderie and sense of community stemmed from.  These days, for better or worse, it is different.

Now it is safe to say that most people have seen or heard of poker, play it regularly themselves, dabbled in online poker or have a friend who does.  While this has led to huge growth in the game, and is no doubt a positive thing, it has eroded that sense of community that used to exist.  It still exists in some places, like on tour, however for the most part it is every player for themselves.  This is not to say that the game hasn’t ALWAYS been every player for themselves, but now it is just much more obvious.  iPods at the table are a clear example of this.  I went to a home game recently where a player was using an iPod.  In the “old days” that would never have happened.

I now agree with Phil in that poker IS a predatory game, that much is obvious.  It was when I first read his article, I just didn’t want to hear it.  The thing that worries me is the fact that now it has become so clear that even the prey understand it, and that is NOT a good thing for the long term health of the game.

If I can give one piece of advice to the predators out there, it is this: be humble.  The fish don’t want to be reminded they’re fish, they just want to go for a swim.  If the water gets too dark and murky, they’ll more than likely find somewhere else to swim.  In our case, that means going back to the pokies, or TAB, or wherever they swam in from.  Don’t tap the fish tank.

Until next time…

Follow Jonno on Twitter @JonnoPittock